Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg fired back at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell after he accused Buttigieg of pursuing "woke initatives" over the East Palestine train derailment.
The chemical spill and subsequent controlled burn from the disaster prompted residents within a 1-mile radius of the accident to be evacuated and kicked off emergency responses from teams in Ohio and West Virginia as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
McConnell—who represents Kentucky—had earlier said on the Senate floor that Buttigieg prioritized "pursuing press coverage for woke initatives and climate nonsense":
“Even amidst a catalog of crises on his watch, from this and other recent train derailments to the meltdown in air travel back during the holiday season, Secretary Buttigieg has seemed more interested in pursuing press coverage for woke initiatives and climate nonsense than in attending to basic elements of his day job."
Buttigieg has had to contend with criticism from Republicans who've sought to blame him for the disaster these last few weeks and quickly issued a response to McConnell during an appearance on CNN.
Buttigieg pointed to the Brent Spence Bridge—a major thoroughfare for both local and national traffic that connects northern Kentucky to Southern Ohio—as an example of infrastructure that would benefit from his department's plans.
He also said McConnell could choose not to attack the Biden administration and instead “could be a partner” to the administration “in making sure that there are fewer rail disasters in the future.”
You can hear what Buttigieg said in the video below.
“I would not call the Brent Spence Bridge a ‘woke initiative.' As for climate, climate is not nonsense. Dealing with climate change is one of the biggest things that people like me, and people like him will be remembered for after we’re gone.” ...
“As I mentioned earlier, the rail — the freight rail industry — has wielded a lot of power here in Washington. I would love to see Leader McConnell join us in standing up to them. There are specific things that could be done right now … He could work with us right now." ...
“So if [McConnell] is serious about this, if anyone, Republican or Democrat or Independent, is serious about this, they can work with us today."
He also tweeted his challenge to McConnell to:
"[join] us in standing up to the railroad industry lobby to make hazardous trains safer."
Earlier this week, Politicoreported the Trump administration "withdrew an Obama-era proposal to require faster brakes on trains carrying highly flammable materials, ended regular rail safety audits of railroads, and mothballed a pending rule requiring freight trains to have at least two crew members."
McConnell is married to Elaine Chao, who served as the nation's Secretary of Transportation during the Trump administration and oversaw these efforts.
Many have praised Buttigieg for his response and criticized McConnell directly.
Buttigieg recently released a plan to build racial equity into the nation's infrastructure, a move that has angered conservatives and spurred many of their criticisms about his "wokeness."
Earlier this month, former MTV VJ and current Fox Business host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery sparked outrage online after she called Buttigieg "a cracker who only wants to racially divide the country further” after he released the plan.
Kennedy Montgomery's remark came in response to her co-host Julie Banderas' comments on a $662 million grant program for ports administered by the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Banderas said Buttigieg's efforts are "obviously the left politicizing" because the grant money is reserved for “projects that address equity and environmental justice, particularly for communities that have experienced decades of underinvestment and are most impacted by climate change, pollution, and environmental hazards.”